Isabella is my attempt at a “cosy” Christmas Eve ghost story to be told around a flickering fire, in a dark old house that creaks and moans as you try to convince yourself that it is just a story.
It was originally published in the Twisted50: Ghosts of Christmas anthology that is available at Amazon and filled with a plethora of spooky tales to keep you spooked until the New Year! It is reproduced here with the bcking of the Twisted 50 crew.
It’s a nice short one, and I had fun writing it, so I hope you enjoy reading it.
The antique clock above the fireplace betrays the time. It is late enough that I know the singing, drifting faintly in off the street, does not emanate from any earthly carol singers. The street is empty, any carollers are long gone. The melodies seep insidiously into my mind but, the words. Oh! The words! If I were to concentrate, to listen to those lyrics, I know I should surely go mad from the depravity and wickedness that echoes on the ill-wind bringing that music to my ears.
It is a lifetime since Isabella was dragged from our home in terror. Even now, I can hear the wailing and screeching as she vanished into the darkness of that Christmas Eve; lamentations that have haunted me day and night since I made that fateful bargain.
As I sit in the parlour reminiscing, the fire rages before me, superficially warming the room and the flesh around my frozen heart. There are no decorations, I have no desire to celebrate the holiday or to continually remind myself of something I have tried every day for decades to forget. The house around me and all the treasures within it are reminder enough.
I shake the half-empty bottle of whisky in my right hand and take a deep gulp of the golden liquid. I grimace as it burns its way down my throat, yet still cooler than the fires I am sure must await me. I clamp my hands against the sides of my head to block the voices, but to no avail.
I creep to the front door, daring to spy through the little window in the topmost oak panel. There is nothing to see other than hefty flakes of snow, illuminated by the lamppost that marks the entrance to my empty cul-de-sac.
Bathed in the golden light of the gas lamp, the Man in the Top Hat leans casually against the post. His face is hidden in shadow, but I know he is smiling. I remember that rictus grin from that fateful Christmas Eve; it is not something easily forgotten.
Could I run?
He is not alone. Never alone. Fear scrapes icicles down my spine and I shiver, despite the warmth of the house. The Man in the Top Hat pushes himself away from the lamp and, as he stands, swings an ebony and silver walking cane down onto the ground, clicking loudly against the cobblestone. The voices grow in intensity, bringing pain behind my eyes.
My hands fly up to my face and I hook my fingers into my cheeks, nails digging into the flesh. They slip across the skin as blood flows, the pain exquisite against the horror of the voices, but it does not help, the voices are not quieted. I dare another glance through the window and watch as spectres emerge from the shadows, grey, unformed, yet recognisably human. They drift down pathways and out of gardens, lining up to face my house, to face me.
I plug my ears with my fingers and sink to my knees, a last prayer for forgiveness and salvation. It was just a business deal for our future, a future I wanted to share with Isabella and our children to come. How was I to know? I was cheated! Misled. Fooled. I am a fool!
‘But you enjoyed it, nonetheless.’ whispers the Man in the Top Hat inside my head. I hear his footsteps on the porch, just audible against a crescendo of what, musically, appears to be Good King Wenceslas, but with lyrics that defy description, which go beyond anything as easily defined as simply evil.
The door swings open and there he is, the Man in the Top Hat, cane slung nonchalantly across one shoulder.
‘I really must review the small print in my contracts,’ he muses as he examines his dirty, grey fingernails, ‘we have waited, so very long.’
Great, wracking sobs escape me as salty tears sting the ripped flesh on my cheeks. The shadow people part, drifting to either side of the road, an eldritch honour guard. Between them, a lone shadow drifts towards the house; my Isabella! There is no breeze, but her hair floats gently in the air, framing her beautiful face. She smiles a smile so wide my heart nearly breaks again. All the wealth, the clothes, the big house, none of it was worth it. I regret everything with all my heart and desire nothing more than to be with her again. She climbs the porch steps, her arms held out before her, reaching for me, for her one true love, her smile never fading.
‘I am so sorry Isabella, I did it for us, you must believe me I was tricked, I would never—’
Isabella stops, just inches from me, close enough for me to touch, but something stops me. Her smile no longer appears warm or friendly. Unusually wide, it looks….
The Man in the Top Hat bangs his cane against the wooden planks of the porch and the shadows sing once more. The tune is ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,’ but the words are ancient, unknown to me. Isabella opens her eyes wide and her mouth wider. Row upon row of tiny, hooked teeth gleam in the moonlight as she spreads her jaw wider than should be physically possible for a human, but, I know, she is no longer human, none of them are, least of all the Man in the Top Hat.
I take one last look at him, his eyes hidden by the brim of his hat. But I can see that smile, wide and full of teeth, just like Isabella’s. He licks his lips and slams his cane once more. I turn to Isabella, just in time to see that devil’s maw dive down upon me, plunging my world into darkness. Thousands of teeth tear at my flesh as I sink into oblivion, grateful, at least, that the singing has stopped.